Posts Tagged ‘reno’

Reno wrap up and stray observations

May 5th, 2019

Reno sign

Reno: it’s the city most of us think of either as a second-rate Las Vegas, or a spot you stop by on your way to somewhere more interesting like Lake Tahoe — or Las Vegas.

What I’m saying is most of us tend to view Reno less of as a destination and more of a rest stop. Which is unfair because Reno actually has a lot to offer. Unlike in Omaha where I was bored after 48 hours, I spent the same amount of time in Reno and felt rushed for time. Not just because it was the last top on my trip, but because I realized I wouldn’t have time to stop by the Nevada Museum of Art or the nearby Sundance Books and Music — a bookstore housed in an old mansion.


Before I say too many good things about Reno, I stayed at Harrah’s, a casino hotel that’s just old. It’s the only hotel I stayed at on this trip as there weren’t many Airbnb’s in downtown Reno.

Aside from the convenient downtown location right across the street from Amtrak there’s not much to say about this hotel, apart from the obvious fact that it was last renovated around the time Bill Clinton was elected president.

Truckee River

The Truckee River cuts through Reno. Along the river there’s a pedestrian path with a variety of parks, restaurants, and cafes. I particularly enjoyed dinner at Campo and the coffee at Hub Coffee Roasters, both of which are right on the river.

Heading west along the river from downtown, there’s a small island with an amphitheater called Winfield Park, and just across the street is a little sculpture garden called Bicentennial Park. Further west — not too far past Hub Coffee Roasters — a much larger park called Idlewild features a lake, various gardens, activities, and plenty of space for stretching your legs or having a picnic.

Former post office building Former post office building

Just across the Truckee River from downtown is an old Post Office building from the public works era. It’s no longer used as a mail facility; the upstairs is now a West Elm store.

Sounds disappointing unless you somehow know to go downstairs to the basement where you’ll find a cafe, a bar, a salon, and other local businesses. There’s also a history wall with old photos of Reno, including the “quickie divorce” era in which Reno’s main attraction was its liberal divorce laws.

The basement is a hidden gem I would never have known about without the suggestion by a friendly local. I definitely would have stopped by for a coffee if I’d known about it in advance.

Death & Taxes Death & Taxes Death & Taxes Death & Taxes

Midtown’s Death & Taxes might be the most ridiculous cocktail bar I’ve ever visited, but it’s so photogenic I had to include it here despite not staying long. The first clue the place would cost more than a nice dinner was I arrived in the late afternoon and it wasn’t happy hour, because they don’t have one. The second clue is the woman behind the bar who greeted me was cutting up roses… which I quickly realized were intended as cocktail garnishes.

The guy sitting next to me had ordered an entire ~750ml bottle of some liquor for himself, and offered me a sip which I politely refused. He clearly had a lot of money to throw around as he chatted with the bartender about some overpriced gin aged in whiskey barrels, which he claimed “tastes just like whiskey.” The guy on the other side of him laughed loudly and said “so just drink whiskey!” That guy had a point.

Just before I left a middle aged couple walked in. The wife ordered something from the cocktail menu, while the husband ordered some kind of call drink with Jose Cuervo. His wife shot him a dirty look, and without missing a beat the hip bartender said they didn’t have Cuervo and recommended their well tequila. Burn!

Junkee Junkee Junkee Junkee

I’ve saved the weirdest for last, one of a lot of weird places in Midtown. Junkee is a large store selling all kinds of costumes, antiques, and secondhand goods.

The words to describe this store don’t exist yet. They have everything from old chairs, used jewelry, vintage comic books, armored knight costumes, and even a bowl of dolls correctly labelled “creepy.”

I’m not sure Junkee is the absolute weirdest store in Midtown — I did enter one small store there which had a giraffe skull for sale — but Junkee is a reasonably priced spot for costumes and odd decor.

One last observation about Reno; it’s easily the most friendly place I visited on this whole trip. Locals would just stop to say hello or good morning, help me out if I looked lost, and even recognized me if we crossed paths a second time. The city’s motto is true, Reno really is “the biggest little city.”

Reno street art: Midtown

May 5th, 2019

Reno street art
Reno street art Reno street art Reno street art Reno street art Reno street art Reno street art Reno street art Reno street art Reno street art Reno street art

In the last post I went over some of the street art in Reno’s downtown. Now, onto the Midtown neighborhood.

Not long ago Midtown was known for dingy motels and strip clubs; to some extent that’s still true, but it’s undergoing a renaissance these days. And why not? It’s a short walk from downtown — just across the river, really — and has become a destination for nearby office workers to have lunch or grab a drink after work.

I don’t think I would have considered visiting Midtown to see its street art on my own, but while searching for food tours in Reno I came across the Midtown & Murals Tour from Reno Food Tours. I don’t want to go into the food aspect too much here except to say I was very stuffed by the end.

The highlight of the tour was completely unplanned: while looking at one of his murals, we just happened to cross paths with prolific Reno muralist Joe C. Rock. Our guide immediately spotted and introduced us to him.

Some though not all of the murals in the above photo gallery were featured on this tour. It’s pretty easy to find most of these murals; they’re either in parking lots along Virginia Street, or off to the side in alleys, parking lots, and on the backs of buildings. There’s no need to go on this or any other tour to walk around Midtown and see plenty of murals on your own.

I’ll admit I was surprised by the quantity, quality, and variety of street art in Reno — particularly in Midtown. It’s definitely not a city I would have associated with street art, and I was happy to be proven wrong.

Reno street art: Downtown

May 5th, 2019

While in Reno I came across so much street art I’m doing two posts about it, starting with downtown Reno. Since I only spent 48 hours in Reno there’s probably many glaring omissions here. Even this first post is split into two galleries for reasons that should make sense momentarily.

Reno street art
Reno street art Reno street art Reno street art Reno street art

Downtown Reno looks pretty shabby overall these days, so what better way to add some color to boarded up buildings and big blank walls than with murals? The pieces range considerably in size and style. The above photos are just a select sample of what I came across walking around downtown within a five by five block radius or so.

I should point out there’s also a significant number of pieces that are just decorative, like patterns painted on utility boxes — not as exciting though definitely a welcome splash of color.

Reno street art
Reno street art Reno street art Reno street art Reno street art Reno street art Reno street art

City Plaza is a hot spot for skateboarders with its large evenly-paved surface and makeshift ramps. There’s a number of utility boxes in the plaza with murals of cartoon raccoons on skateboards; while photographing these a guy skateboarded past me and boasted “my friend painted that!”

Come to think of it, everyone I saw there was either skateboarding or taking photos.

What the plaza’s best known for though are its two sculptures originally built for Burning Man: a giant 3D sign that says “BELIEVE,” and two stained glass whales known as Space Whale which feature internal lights that glow after dark. Both of these act as selfie magnets for the Instagram crowd.

The impact of Burning Man on Reno isn’t something I’d thought about before. As it’s the biggest city on the way to Black Rock City, Reno bears the brunt of its problems (guess where the trash gets dumped?) but it’s also beneficial for the tourism industry and local art scene.

Review: The Illusionists Experience in Reno

May 4th, 2019


Last night I went to see The Illusionists Experience, a magic show with a residency for the next few months in Reno’s Eldorado.

The name is a little confusing, I think they just tacked on “Experience” as a way to differentiate it from their traveling sister show which is simply known as “The Illusionists.” Unlike the traveling show, the Experience has a fixed set of illusionists. They are, in order of left-to-right in the above photo:

  • Valentin, The Showman
  • David Williamson, The Trickster (and host)
  • Chris Cox, The Mentalist
  • Hyun Joon Kim, The Maniupulator
  • Krendl, The Escapist

The first trick is one you’ll have to perform on your own: finding the theater inside the enormous Eldorado casino floor. By the time I found it my eyes were watering from all the cigarette smoke.

In the theater lobby I picked up my will-call ticket and was directed to wait in one of the two lines. I bought the second most expensive ticket, which got me pretty close to the stage in the second row of seats. The priciest tickets get you a little table in the very front.

As we waited for people to file in, David invited us to come up to the bar at the front of the stage, grab a drink (champagne was free, at least with my ticket), fill out a small form for Chris Cox’s act and drop it in a box, and watch David’s up-close card tricks at the bar.

If you’re sitting in the back it’s not the end of the world though, they have crews walking around with live cameras projected on a large screen for the close-up acts. As far as I could tell this was legitimate, they weren’t displaying doctored footage.

The show begins with the bar transforming into part of the stage. David acts as a host, introducing the other illusionists and performing his own tricks while set pieces were being rolled out behind the curtain. He’s more of a comedian than a magician though, he claimed he learned all his tricks from magic books he checked out at the library. What he does have going for him is the ability to work the crowd, and in his final performance of the evening he invited a few kids up on stage, all of whom seemed genuinely fooled or at least very confused.

Hyun Joon Kim does card tricks that seem impossible like cards suddenly changing colors and pulling cards seemingly out of thin air. If you’ve ever watched Penn & Teller’s Fool Us, you’ve certainly seen other magicians do similar card tricks. Might not fool Penn & Teller, but it definitely looks magical to those of us who don’t know the secrets.

Chris’s mentalist routines were okay, but like most of these types of magic tricks he obviously had an assistant feeding him information and Googled a few members of the audience to “read” their minds. Although I don’t think he really fooled anyone, what Chris does have going for him is an energetic stage presence and a self-deprecating sense of humor.

Krendl’s escapist routine culminated in a Houdini-style escape from a locked tank of water while handcuffed — and holding his breath the entire time. This was easily the most impressive act, though I think it would have benefited from a slower pace to establish the stakes such as what’s really required of him to escape.

One trick involved an “impossible box” illusion where one of the two beautiful female assistants was locked in a box, an enormous rectangular rod was slid through the center of the box, and then… well I don’t want to spoil this one, but it’s obvious the box is much roomier than it appears.

It’s worth acknowledging the elephant in the room: all the illusionists at this show are male, and the two assistants are female. Seems like they could have at least found one female illusionists to balance this out a little better, though David deserves credit for making jokes at the expense of the gender imbalance.

My recommendation: Chances are you’ve seen many of the routines performed during this show before, if not some of the performers themselves. That said it’s one thing to see these illusions on TV and another to see them live; for that reason alone it’s worth considering. On the other hand it’s pretty expensive for a 90 minute show, and you’ll pay extra for the good seats. I think almost anyone would be entertained though the ideal audience is those who haven’t seen big scale live magic shows before and don’t mind the steep ticket price.